We all have assumptions when it comes to certain types of people. A caring nurse. A fragile woman. A detective who consults the tarot to solve a case is seen as off their rocker (okay, maybe not that one). A narcissistic serial killer who brags about killing more women than they did. They all fit into the neat boxes we create based on first impressions. But not everyone – or everything – can neatly fit into the boxes we’ve created in our heads.
That’s what Robert Gailbraith (J.K. Rowling’s non-Potterverse pseudonym), author of The Cuckoo’s Calling and Lethal White, has us believing when we take another stroll through Troubled Blood: A Cormoran Strike Novel, the fifth instalment in her growing series of detective novels.
PI Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott are now business partners, solving crimes and mysteries as they come along. Their newest client brings in the coldest of cold cases – one involving her own mother who’s been missing for over 40 years.
When Dr. Margot Bamborough didn’t meet up with her friend one night after work, suspicions were cast upon a serial killer who might have been in the area. Yet, no one could locate her body so her disappearance was never solved. Given a year to solve the case, Strike and Robin have to dig through a mix of old memories and notes involving astrology and the occult from the former lead detective.
With the mystery at the center of this tight flower bud, the story slowly peels itself petal by petal over the course of a year. We see Strike’s Aunt Joan succumb to her cancer as Robin has to handle her imminent divorce from her husband. The budding feelings between Strike and Robin, though sadly stereotypical, grow like a tiny sapling in the forest. Their lives inch along as they hit dead end after dead end. Though initially skeptics when following the former lead detective’s notes, the duo begin to embrace the impossible and even empathize with the detective’s unorthodox methods.
While best known for her Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts, J.K. Rowling’s detective series has proven to be a fine addition to her growing literacy roster. Cormoran Strike offers her plenty of non-magic opportunities to strut her stuff, but while the story itself is solid and the ending has a great twist (which I won’t dare spoil), her meandering writing often drags down the fun. There are details that feel absolutely superfluous where things are explained rather than shown, and it takes a lot to wade through the tangles of description in order to get to the meaty parts.
Troubled Blood: A Cormoran Strike Novel is yet another strong story in Rowling’s detective series, giving us a lesson in how even after several decades and few leads, a cold case seemingly frozen shut can be solved with fresh eyes and an open mind. Things aren’t always what they seem at first – or second – glance and when witnesses or people involved are re-interviewed, new tidbits of information can emerge. Rowling provides us with her signature epic storytelling – strong characters and storyline – but the pace leaves one wishing things would wrap up a lot faster.